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Ten female inventors who saved our lives

Brilliant female inventions that date back hundreds of years.

By: Corie Hengst

From car parts to cataract removers, brilliant female inventions date back hundreds of years. Some women may not have received recognition during their lifetime for their work, and others even died in the name of research—but the impact of their inventions lives on. We have these remarkable ladies to thank for improving both our health and safety.

1. Mary Anderson: Windshield Wipers

Can you imagine driving in torrential downpour without windshield wipers? Mary Anderson couldn’t either. She thought of the idea while visiting New York City and noticing that drivers had to stick their heads out the window to see during inclement weather. She was given a patent in 1903 for her rubber blade, which drivers could use by pushing a lever inside of the car. By 1916, windshield wipers were standard equipment for cars in the U.S. In 1917, Charlotte Bridgwood took the invention a step further and patented the automatic wipers.

2. Mary Walton: Pollution-Reducing Device

Even hundreds of years ago, women like Mary Walton recognized the effects of pollutants on our health. In the late 1800s, Walton was given two patents for devices that reduce pollution after creating a system that could decrease emissions from smokestacks and trains. Walton’s invention deflected the pollution into water tanks, where it was flushed into the sewer system. She was also known for inventing a system that reduced noise vibrations on railroad tracks.

3. Ada Lovelace: Programming

Ada Lovelace, the daughter of Annabella Milbanke and poet Lord Byron, was encouraged by her mother to study math—a rare thing for a woman in the 1800s. Lovelace is now widely referred to as the “first computer programmer,” credited for creating the first early computer programs. She wrote them in an article describing the analytic engine—or what would now be known as a general-purpose computer—designed by Charles Babbage. Her work on this project became the inspiration for modern computers. Historians, however, have argued for many years over whether Babbage was the actual author.

4. Katharine Burr Blodgett: Non-reflective Glass

Not only was Katharine Blodgett the first woman to be hired at GE, she also invented invisible glass used widely by chemists and physicists, as well as in products like cameras and microscopes. Research chemist Irving Langmuir encouraged Blodgett to collaborate with him on projects, and during her independent research she found a way to measure an oily substance he had invented. This method of measuring transparent objects led her to create non-reflective glass in 1938. Like many inventors, Blodgett didn’t stop at just one brilliant product—she also invented smoke screens, which saved countless troops during World War II by protecting them from toxic plumes.

5. Stephanie Kwolek: Kevlar

Mostly by accident, Stephanie Kwolek discovered a solution in 1971 that’s five times stronger than steel, but lighter as well as corrosion-resistant. Known as Kevlar, the ingredient is used to make many lifesaving products like helmets and bulletproof vests, as well as suspension bridges.

6. Patricia Bath: Laser Cataract Remover

Patricia Bath invented the Laserphaco Probe for cataract treatment in the 1980s, making her the first African-American female doctor to receive a medical patent. The probe uses a laser to remove cataracts painlessly, as opposed to the earlier removal method with a drill-like device. In addition to inventing the cataract remover, she cofounded the American Institute for the Prevention of Blindness, which states that “eyesight is a basic human right.”

7. Anna Connelly: Fire Escape

It’s hard to imagine a time before fire safety. In 1887, Anna Connelly decided to create something that would prevent the deaths of many in multistory buildings. She patented the exterior fire escape—which was actually a fire escape bridge surrounded by a railing with openings at the ends. The bridge allowed the safe escape from one building to the next during a fire.

8. Rosalyn Yalow: Radioimmunoassay

In 1959, Rosalyn Yalow worked with Solomon Berson to invent the radioimmunoassay (RIA), a method of analyzing very small quantities of “biologically active substances,” such as blood and tissue. The method also made it possible to measure viruses, drugs and other proteins. One of the most important uses was identifying viruses like hepatitis in blood banks to prevent their transmission. The method could also determine effective dosage levels of drugs and antibiotics. Yalow was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1977.

9. Flossie Wong-Staal: HIV/AIDS Testing Method

Flossie Wong-Staal helped discover the virus that causes AIDS and was the first to map HIV’s genes by cloning the virus. Along with a team of co-inventors, she holds a patent for an AIDS testing method and continues to work on treatments for those with the disease.

10. Marie Curie: Radium

No female inventor story would be complete without a mention of Marie Curie, who—alongside her husband Pierre—discovered radium and polonium. The discovery was vital to the development of the X-ray. Unfortunately, the effects of radiation exposure were not then known, and the radioactivity pioneer died as a result of her work.

By: Corie Hengst

This article was originally published on Levo League.

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